BEYOND HTML: XML AND AUTOMATED WEB PROCESSINGBy Tim BraySend comments and questions about this article to View Source. XML (Extensible Markup Language) was nowhere a year ago; now it seems to be everywhere. It's supposed to be the thing that "goes beyond HTML" -- but what does that mean? Since HTML is the most successful document format in history, why would anyone want to go beyond it? The people who are working on XML talk about "automating the Web" -- what does that mean?XML is designed to do some jobs that HTML isn't built to handle but that really need doing. If you just want to display text, there's nothing wrong with HTML, but for automated Web processing -- enriching documents in a way that enables computer programs (like Web robots) to do something with them -- what's needed is XML.
XML was designed under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It went public in November 1996 and is already the basis for half a dozen proposals to automate Web processing. XML has a lot of people thinking really hard about what the future of the Web will look like. You need to start thinking about XML now, because a year from now you'll undoubtedly be using it a lot.
XML is extensible, easy, and (hard to believe, but true) guaranteed not to break your computer programs. In this article, I'll expand on these extravagant claims. Then I'll explain where XML came from and also take some guesses as to where it's going and what it might mean for you.
XML IS EXTENSIBLE
Suppose I wanted to add some intelligence to the vast amount of e-mail stored on my computer. With XML I could mark it as shown in Example 1.
<email> <head> <from> <name>Tim Bray</name> <address>firstname.lastname@example.org</address> </from> <to> <name>Paul Dreyfus</name> <address>email@example.com</address> </to> <subject> First draft of XML intro </subject> </head> <body> <p>Here's a draft of that XML article. I'll be on the road but connected to e-mail. Let me know if it hits the right level (i.e., are major revisions in order?). If it's fine, proceed with editorial nit-pickery. -Tim</p> <attach encoding="mime" name="xml-draft.html"/> </body> </email>
Tim Bray firstname.lastname@example.org Paul Dreyfus email@example.com First draft of XML intro
Here's a draft of that XML article. I'll be on the road but
connected to e-mail. Let me know if it hits the right level (i.e., are
major revisions in order?). If it's fine, proceed with editorial